Students in the future may carry with them a sort of passport that recognises the quality of the education they receive around the world that have partner campuses in Dubai.
The idea of this passport is to make students’ experience and qualifications more portable as education becomes more global, so they can move from place to place with one familiar form of documentation recognised in many countries.
Dr Warren Fox, Executive Director of Higher Education at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), says, “We recognise there are different systems [around the world]. The common element we would like to have is the passporting arrangement of our fellow quality assurance agencies, so we can all rest assured that we can recognise each other’s work and honour it.
“Once we start building this passport model with our partners in the UK, US and other countries, we think that we’ll be able to professionalise it, have a better database and make it easier for institutions and students to document their approval, rather than trying to review every single student and every single degree awarded to students.” The student passport, still in the early stages of discussion and planning, would cut red tape by acknowledging different quality assurance and accreditation bodies without the need for time-consuming checks.
It is a new step following last year’s Resolution 21 from The Executive Council, which formally recognised KHDA as the regulatory body for higher education institutions in Dubai’s free zones — Dubai International Academic City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai Healthcare City, Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai International Financial Centre.
Resolution 21 means that degrees from the 31 institutions in these free zones are recognised in both the public and private sectors in Dubai. This has not been the case until now. Consequently many Emirati students have been reluctant to study for degrees that would not guarantee them a government job in their own home emirate.
Dr B Ramjee, Director of Manipal University, Dubai Campus, says, “Resolution 21 is a step in the correct direction, which I feel will immensely benefit our students. Many of our students seek job opportunities in Dubai and an endorsement by the highest educational authority of the emirate is a source of comfort to the employer of the legitimacy and the quality of the education imparted to the student.
“In terms of higher education, especially when students go abroad to the West, an attestation of this kind ensures that the student graduating has done so from an institution that has met all the quality standards of a particular place, and once again, it is invaluable in that regard.”
Graduates could use this passport to fast-track their applications for jobs, saving employers time too. Dr Sandeep Kadwe, committee member of Dubai Human Resources Forum and Director of MITCON International management consultancy, has concerns about the quality of Dubai’s graduates. He says, “Education is all about who teaches you and what they teach you. The one thing I am happy about is that the campuses are fabulous but I feel there is a missing link in Dubai where quality is concerned.”
Dr Kadwe, who lectures across the GCC, in Iran, India and Europe, adds, “Most students here are not in a position to compete with graduates coming from outside. “In particular, students here lack exposure to the workplace, which is important when they are applying for jobs. It can be difficult for them to get internships because of visa restraints and we need more communication between campuses and employers,” says Dr Kadwe.
Dr Fox, who helped to draft Resolution 21, is optimistic that the law is “the last piece of the puzzle, now everything is in place” to regulate higher education. The law, among other things, makes it compulsory for universities to give KHDA data so it can build an accurate picture of programmes, student numbers, attainment and so on.
Until now supplying such data has been voluntary. It requires the Academic Director of institutions to hold a doctoral degree. Dr Fox says, “Some have a Master’s degree and a lot of experience. They have someone in their home campus with a PhD, but a lot around the law is a work in progress.” It also determines the price of an educational permit and attestation, and penalties for contravening the law. Institutions that offer up to five programmes will now pay Dh150,000 per year to Dubai Government, Dh175,000 for six-ten programmes and Dh200,000 for 11 or more programmes.
Dr Fox says, “Most campuses are taking the fee as part of being in a free zone. The attestation is a significant benefit. It is a little different for smaller campuses, and some have removed planned programmes so they do not need to pay (the extra fee)."